Monthly Archives: December 2017

Bali clownfish

In the tropical Indopacific, where there are anemones there are anemonefish, also loosely referred to as clownfish*.  Bali is a tropical Indopacific island.  There are lots of anemones in Bali.  Q.E.D.

I managed to identify and photograph four of the island’s several anemonefish species:

Clark’s anemonefish is the most common anemonefish in Bali. That’s largely because it associates with ten different species of anemone. Anemonefish are obligate symbionts with anemones, totally dependent on the stinging invertebrates for shelter. Many species of these fish restrict themselves to just a single or a few types of anemone, and are therefore less common than the Clark’s.

It was pretty special to get to see and photograph these false clown anemonefish, probably the handsomest of Bali’s anemonefish.

Spinecheek anemonefish tend to be redder (as opposed to orange) than other species.  The cheek spine for which the species is named is visible protruding partway across the first white band.

This species is called either orange anemonefish or orange skunk anemonefish.  Sandra spotted this group (anemonefish almost always occur in groups) while she and Jeff snorkeled at Menjangan.  I was diving nearby at the time, but Jeff told me about seeing these fish after we’d all returned to the boat, and then led me back into the water for a look and to snap a few photos.

*As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about Samoan fish, the term anemonefish is preferred by most fish geeks, with clownfish being reserved for the clowniest of them, the false clown anemonefish and the actual clown anemonefish.  The latter is not found in Bali.

Bali—I am not a turtle!

I’m not a shark, either.  Or a large grouper, or a manta ray.  On one of my dives off Menjangan Island one fish seemed to disagree with these assertions.  It was a small sharksucker, or slender remora, a near-shore species that hitches rides on large fish, turtles, even whales, using odd suction structures on its head.  This particular remora decided it wanted to attach itself to me.  I kept shooing it away, but it persisted for about ten minutes before giving up and swimming off. I’ve read that they can attach themselves to you securely enough that it can be difficult to remove them.  I guess if you just got out of the water they’d let go pretty quickly.

Trying to stick the top of its head to my calf.  The folded pelvic fins are clearly visible.

You don’t see these fish swimming in the open like this very often. It was apparently planning another attack on my leg after I’d temporarily discouraged it.

Here’s a better view of the sucker mechanism, a highly modified dorsal fin.

A couple of larger specimens hitching a ride with a more appropriate host, a handsome green turtle that happened to cruise by.

Bali—thirteen angels

Hawaii has seven species of angelfish that live in shallow enough water to be seen by recreational divers.  Three are quite rare except in the Northwestern Islands—the virtually uninhabited chain that extends from Kauai towards Japan.  In hundreds of snorkeling and diving outings in Hawaii I’ve seen a total of three species of angel.

I don’t know exactly how many species of angelfish there are in Bali.  At least a couple dozen.  But in our eleven days in the water there I managed to identify and photograph thirteen species.  This is why we travel to Bali.  Most were seen while scuba diving at thirty feet or deeper, but some, especially the smaller species, were common at snorkeling depths.

Yellow-mask angelfish with attendant bluestreak cleaner wrasse at scuba depth off Menjangan Island. These large beauties are often quite approachable.

It doesn’t look or act much like an angelfish, but for reasons known to ichthyologists, it is. It’s a blackstriped angelfish, again at scuba depth off Menjangan.  Unlike most angels, these fish often swim in midwater, well away from the bottom.

Not such a hot picture, but it illustrates the sheer abundance and diversity of reef fish in Bali. There are three species of angelfish in this photo: yellow-mask at the top; three-spot, bottom foreground; and emperor, bottom background. And as a bonus there’s a titan triggerfish rooting around in the center of the photo. This was at about 30 ft. at Menjangan.

The elegant little blacktail angelfish are plentiful at snorkeling depths. They’re a favorite of mine, but fairly difficult to photograph. While not exactly shy, they tend to perform a nervous hide-and-seek with would-be photographers, just like many wrasse species.

The showy regal angelfish can be seen at both snorkeling and scuba depths. Some sources say that they’re very shy, and that was my experience in Samoa, but they were quite approachable in Bali.

Blue-girdled angelfish. Another large angel seen mostly, but not exclusively at scuba depths.

This is an adult semicircle angelfish. I saw adults only at scuba depths, but sub-adults (below) were pretty common in shallower water. (For any photo geek reading, I was having color balance issues with one of my cameras—a Nikon J5—throughout the trip.  Some were pretty fixable in post-processing and others not so much.)

A juvenile semicircle angel. Juveniles of several other species in this genus have this sort of zebra-stripe pattern.

This is a sub-adult semicircle angelfish, transitioning between juvenile and adult coloration.

Pearl-scaled angelfish, another small, pretty species common in shallow water.

Bicolor angel. These fairly common fish are in my experience really shy. Too bad, because they’re so gorgeous.

A young keyhole angel. I only saw one of these shy fish on a single occasion.

A retreating vermiculated angelfish. As with the keyhole angel, I only had a single, brief sighting.

And, if I’ve counted right, the thirteenth species—the six-banded angelfish. Again, only a single brief encounter at scuba depth.




Bali lionfish

Lionfish have been garnering a lot of bad press lately.  Two lionfish species, both native to the Indopacific (including, I believe, Bali) have become noxious introduced invasives in the western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico.  These voracious predators are apparently wreaking havoc on native fish species in these areas, and vigorous control efforts are underway.  Among the more interesting is a movement to promote the sale of these fish for restaurant and home consumption—they’re supposed to be excellent eating if properly prepared.  Seems like a great idea.  No better way to ensure the demise of a species than to attach a dollar sign to it.

Getting to the point of this post, there are lots of lionfish in Bali, where, as natives, they’re considered desirable members of the marine community.  I managed to identify three species on our trip—none of them the aforementioned invasive species.

Jeff spotted this gurnard lionfish in 18 ft. of water as we snorkeled across Jemeluk Bay.  Jeff has a thing for lionfish, and so do I. They’re exotic, they sit still for photos, and they have poisonous spines. What’s not to like?

A spotfin lionfish at 40 ft. at Menjangan. (Yes, using scuba—I can’t free dive that deep anymore.) Lionfish can be kind of hard to identify—in fact I’m not one hundred percent certain of my IDs in this post. Habitat helps. The gurnard lionfish pictured above prefers sandy bottoms, while the spotfin favors coral and rocks.

Marla spotted this young zebra lionfish while we snorkeled in very shallow water at Pemuteran. This seagrass habitat can be just as interesting as more coral-ish habitats, with an abundance of odd, cryptic fish species like the cowfish below.

Another interesting inhabitant of the shallow seagrass beds, a longhorn cowfish. Eagle-eye Marla spotted this one in about 10 ft. at Pemuteran.


Marla and I recently (well, a couple of weeks ago) got back from sixteen days snorkeling and diving in Bali.  Our good friends and fellow fish geeks Jeff and Sandra graciously invited us to join them on their fourth trip to this gorgeous island.  We stayed at three locations; two on the eastern Amed coast, and one at Pemuteran on the northwest coast.  We had several spectacular days of snorkeling in Amed; you only needed to go a few yards from the shore to find excellent fish diversity and abundance, as well as dense coverage of soft and hard coral.  Jeff remarked that coral health had declined significantly since their last visit four years ago, but it looked pretty good to Marla and me, especially compared to the bleached reefs here in Hawaii. 

Pemuteran was a different story.  In past decades fishing with explosives (!) and cyanide (!!), together with El Niño-induced ocean warming, had devastated the near-shore reefs.  Beginning in 2000, various non-profits, Indonesian government agencies, local dive shops, and resorts began cooperating in a unique effort to restore the reefs.  Dozens of large, steel, cage-like structures were placed at numerous locations in Pemuteran Bay.  Amazingly, these structures were hooked up with very low voltage electrical current provided by land-based sources or by solar panels on rafts.  The current is supposed to stimulate coral growth, producing up to a five-fold increase relative to non-electrified substrates.  Small fragments of wild coral were initially harvested and transplanted onto the structures to supplement natural coral recruitment.  It all appears to be working—the structures are covered with healthy young coral together with rich invertebrate and fish communities.  Despite this, the near-shore snorkeling in Pemuteran was not as spectacular as in Amed, but persistence and close observation yielded some very interesting finds, some of which I’ll describe in a later post.  One day Marla and I went on a dive a short distance offshore from Pemuteran with Sea Rovers, an excellent local dive outfit.  (Jeff and Sandra snorkel, but do not dive.)  As is generally the case offshore, water was clearer and fish more abundant than at the snorkeling sites off the beach.

The best thing about Pemuteran was its proximity to Menjangan Island, located about a forty minute boat ride to the west.  Menjangan is part of the Bali Barat National Park, and both aquatic and terrestrial activities there are strictly regulated. As a result, the clear water around the island supports riotous numbers of fish, large and small, colorful and plain. I spent two days—one with Marla—diving Menjangan.

I ended up with several hundred photos from the trip.  I’ve been having fun going through them trying to identify all the different fish species we saw.  The count is well above one hundred species.  Here’s a random handful of shots (all clickable)—more coming.

This was taken fifty feet down a steep wall at Menjangan Island. Three giant trevally patrol amidst the profusion of smaller fish—mostly fusiliers.

These are fire dartfish at maybe forty feet at Menjangan. These pretty guys are almost always seen in pairs hanging motionless, close to the bottom, ready to dart into nearby holes for cover. Hence the name dartfish.

Blackbelt hogfish, also called splitlevel hogfish, a favorite fish of mine for no particular reason, at Menjangan.

Redfin hogfish, again at Menjangan. This specimen is unusually lacking in the reddish coloration that gives the species its common name.

A slingjaw wrasse (I think; maybe a latent slingjaw wrasse) attended by bluestreak cleaner wrasses. Cleaner wrasses are the underwater photographer’s friends because the fish they clean tend to stay relatively still for cleaning, allowing close approach by divers. More on cleaner wrasses in a later post.

And then there are the non-piscatorial aspects of Bali. Here’s a dive boat at Jemeluk with Mt. Agung smoking menacingly in the distance. Agung had been threatening to erupt for a couple of months prior to our trip. It went off, temporarily closing Bali’s only international airport, just a couple of days after our departure.